Invest in Rest

“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary…He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31

Labor Day was created to pay tribute to the accomplishments of American workers and thankfully gives us one last summer hurrah. The chance to fill the long weekend up with shopping, watching favorite shows, yard work, or a beach trip may make true rest from labor elusive, even if we sleep more or do nothing.

Honestly, I love summer with all the travel, swimming, food, and fun that vacations and holidays bring. As I have lived overseas and traveled around the world many times, jet lag has been a life teacher, helping me understand the importance of getting back into my time zone and routines of caring for my body and spirit. It is the regular routines and healthy rhythms of rest, Sabbath Rest, that not only sustain, but energize my work and family life.

God designed a “Sabbath Rest” as an investment in rest that is invigorating, empowering, and renewing. The idea of a rest day is introduced in the Old Testament as the fourth of the ten commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Exodus 20:8-10

Are you guilty of breaking this commandment? It doesn’t seem up there with idolatry or adultery, but a day of Sabbath rest must be something pretty important to make God’s top 10 list.  Taking a Sabbath is actually God’s gift of repetitive, healthy, and holy rest.  A day of “being” in the midst of a “doing” life. Teachers, ministers, and parents are especially guilty of neglecting the rhythms of rest in constantly serving, achieving, and doing good. We over commit and work beyond our natural limits.

An interesting fact in the creation story: On the first six days of creation both morning and evening came, a beginning and an end to God’s creative work.  But on the seventh day, the day of God’s rest, there is no mention of evening.  Rabbis have said this means the rest of God is forever.  “So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Gen 2)  “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Heb 4:9)

So what is this Sabbath Rest?  It is a time of honoring God and respecting our human limitations through restful rhythms. Jesus invites us into his rest: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31) This rest is a renewing energy without labor, without suffering–moving with the ease of an eagle in flight.  Energy from the Creator that empowers us to fly, to run, and to walk our daily lives as promised in Isaiah for those “who wait for the Lord.” They shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Waiting in this context has the literal meaning of binding together the strands of a rope. As in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands in not quickly broken.” In other words, we are strengthened as we wait on the Lord God to weave in us strands of character and power.  As for the word “renew”, there is a literal idea of exchange.  As I exchange my failing strength, my endless tiring thoughts for God’s power, strength, and Word, my spirit flies free from the tethers of responsibility. 

“Sabbath is God’s way of saying, ‘Stop. Notice your limits. Don’t burn out.”

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.

Calhoun adds that Sabbath is a day of rest God gives us to look into the eyes of those we love by having time for loving and being loved.  We can trust the Creator to manage our concerns as we settle into rest. Just in case you think it sounds a little too holy and may cramp your day-off plans, here are some true rest suggestions from Calhoun (and some of mine) for taking a Sabbath day of rest:

The Practice of Sabbath Rest

  • Consider the things that would nourish you: worship, music, a nap, making love, walking, reading, playing with children, afternoon tea, reading for pleasure.  (I would add creation worship such as watching the sunrise, bird watching, playing outside with your dog, going as a family or with friends on a nature hike.) Luxuriously and spaciously plan these into the day.
  • For those with a family, discuss together how to arrange the day for refreshment, renewal, and relationships. If getting to church is stressful, talk about how to take the pressure off and approach the day without rushing or demanding. (Honestly the worst family fights happen on the way to church!)
  • The night before your Sabbath, go to sleep early as a spiritual act of worship. Pray for Christ to give you deep, refreshing sleep.  Commit your body and dreams to Christ.
  • The next morning, get up slowly and attend to your desire to encounter God.  Light candles and play worship music to invite the presence of Christ into the day. 
  • This may be difficult, but drop into a basket, real or imaginary, all the things you don’t need for a rest such as cell phones, television or internet, credit cards, homework, projects. You know what these are for you.
  • Then spend 20 minutes meditating in silence or reading a Scripture and saying the Lord’s prayer together.  This could be done after coffee and pancakes. Speak words of peace to yourself and one another.  Is God speaking to you in any way?  Listen and respond with restful trust. Then, lean into the day with nourishing, life-giving, loving activities or inactivity. Rest.

On Sundays I did not worship the clock, the dollar or my superego. I worshiped God instead, whom I trusted to run the world for one day without my help. I cannot even bring myself to tell you how I spent those days, since my mind still calls it sloth. It was not sloth. It was sabbath, and its effect was immediate. Relationships became more spacious. Prayer became more spacious. Time itself became more spacious. Instead of charging out of the gate on Monday mornings, I found myself sauntering instead, still relishing the freedom of the day before. There was never enough time to get everything done, but I finally understood there never would be. There would only be enough time to live, with as much gratitude as I could muster.” Barbara Brown Taylor, “Letting God run things without my help.”

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